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Social Stories

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Social Stories with Children with Autism: How to write a Social Story

Based on Gray, C. (2002) The New Social Story Book

The use of Social Stories was pioneered by Carol Gray in 1991 and is being widely used with children Autistic Spectrum Disorder. Social Stories provide the student with accurate information regarding situations s/he encounters.

Social rules, which can be difficult for children with Autism to understand instinctively, are written down as concrete rules in the form of a story. The stories are written in language that the child uses or can easily understand. Visual supports can be added to Social Stories in order to aid comprehension for the student.

A Social Story is considered as a process that results in a product for a person with autism. First, as a process, a Social Story requires consideration of - and respect for - the perspective of the person with autism. As a product, a Social Story is a short story - defined by specific characteristics - that describes a situation, concept, or social skill using a format that is meaningful for people with Autism. In this way, each Social Story addresses the needs and improves the social understanding of people on both sides of the social equation. The result is often renewed sensitivity of others to the experience of the person with Autism, and an improvement in the response of the person with Autism.

Who writes Social Stories?

Social Stories are written by: parents; teachers; neighbours; speech and language therapists; doctors; grandparents; occupational therapists; uncles; psychologists etc.:

People who work or live with people with Autism.

Social Story Topics

Social Stories may be used to address a seemingly infinite number of topics. Social Stories are often written in response to a troubling situation, in an effort to provide a person with Autism with the social information s/he may be lacking. They may describe skills that are part of the academic or social curriculum, personalise social skills covered in a social skills training programme, or translate a goal into understandable steps. A teacher may write a Social Story to describe each special event in advance.

Social Stories have another purpose that is equally important: acknowledging achievement. In fact, a child's first Social Story should describe a skill or situation that is typically successful and problem-free. This makes it easier for the child to identify with a story from start to finish before tackling more challenging topics. Plus, written praise may be far more meaningful for children with Autism than its verbal counterpart.

For these reasons, at least half of the Social Stories developed for a child with Autism should bring attention to positive achievements. This creates a permanent record of what a child does well: information in building a positive self-esteem.

A Social Story has defining characteristics that distinguish it from a traditional task analysis, social script or other visual strategy. The most important elements of a Social Story are four basic sentence types and a ratio that defines their frequency. In addition, how each sentence is written is equally important, while ensuring the patient and reassuring qualities of the Social Story.

The Basic Social Story Sentences and Ratio

There are four basic sentence types:

Descriptive, Perspective, Affirmative and Directive.

Each sentence type has a specific role and is used in a Social Story according to a specified frequency, called the Social Story Ratio. Understanding the types of sentences in a Social Story, and their role and relationship to the overall impact of a story, is the first step to writing effective Social Stories.

The Basic Social Story Ratio defines the relationship between the different types of Social Story sentences. Specifically, a Social Story has a ratio of two to five descriptive, perspective and/or affirmative sentences for every directive sentence. In some cases, directive sentences may not be necessary. The ratio applies when the story is considered as a whole. For example, a story could begin with seven descriptive sentences and close with two directives sentences, and still adhere to the Basic Social Story Ratio. This ratio ensures the descriptive quality of every Social Story:

Basic Social Story Ratio

0-1 (partial or complete) directive sentences = Basic Social Story Ratio

2-5 (partial or complete) descriptive, perspective and/or affirmative sentences

Descriptive sentences

Descriptive sentences are truthful, opinion-and-assumption-free statements of fact. They identify the most relevant factors in a situation or the most important aspects of the topic. The only required types of sentence in a Social Story and the most frequently used, descriptive sentences form the 'backbone 'of a Social Story. They often contain the answers to the important "wh" questions that guide story development. The objectivity of descriptive sentences brings logic and accuracy to a Social Story - two qualities likely to be reassuring to those who are overwhelmed by social concepts and situations. Sample descriptive sentences include:

1) My name is (often the first sentence in a Social Story)

2) Sometimes, my grandmother reads to me.

3) Many children play on the playground during outdoor recess.

Perspective sentences

Perspective sentences are statements that refer to or describe a person's internal state; their knowledge/thoughts, feelings, beliefs, opinions, motivation, or physical condition/health. Only on rare occasions are perspective sentences used that describe or refer to the internal status of the person with Autism; most frequently they are used to refer to the internal status of other people. These sentences give a Social Story a 'heart', describing the emotional and cognitive aspects that are a (sometimes invisible but critically important) part of every social situation. Sample perspective sentences include:

1) My teacher or substitute teacher knows about maths (knowledge/thoughts).

2) My sister

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